Right before he died at age 94, my grandfather talked about the war for the first time in his life, when told me that World War II was when he found Jesus. As an aviation technician at an RAF base in France, he watched countless men, including his best friend and his brother, shot down in flames as they tried to land safely. The only way he could process what he witnessed and lost on a daily basis was to turn to the hope that there was love in the world, and that he and his friends and family would find peace and happiness despite the horrific circumstances of their death. War takes good human beings and makes them do horrible things to one another, usually against their better judgement and inner moral compass. One way that soldiers channel their need for creativity and positivity in the most dire of surroundings is through trench art, which flourished during World War I. We have all learned what hell the trenches were; men living in a state of absolute terror and squalor for months and years, places so terrible that death was often a deliverance. But from those places, from materials that brought death and destruction, men carved and shaped beautiful objects that survive to this day as reminders of what they lived and died through. While some trench art was produced by soldiers living in the trenches, much of it was created away from the front lines by wounded and convalescing soldiers, or even by civilian artisans as souvenirs of the war. Much surviving trench art was made by locals after the war in order to feed themselves in a decimated economy. Popular items of trench art were vases, lamp stands and ashtrays made from shell casings, and bullets made into picture frames, letter openers and lighters. Many American soldiers etched their mess kits with flags, women or reminders of home. The energies these objects are infused with are intense and dark, so to see them used to create something decorative and beautiful is poignant. Check out a collection of World War I trench art below.
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